Colm O'Rourke: Lilywhites must discover their dark side
Kildare have the talent to trouble Kerry, but do they have the steel?
Kerry versus Kildare is a clash of football cultures. Kildare have traditionally had style, while Kerry always had style but plenty of substance too. The iron fist in the velvet glove.
Behind the silky skills there was always a few enforcers, the Ó Sé brothers, Uncle Páidí, Tim Kennelly, Jimmy Deenihan and in the present team, Aidan O'Mahony and Paul Galvin when he is released. They could themselves play in whatever way was necessary, but they also ensured that the class players on their teams were protected and allowed to express those silky skills.
I find it hard to think of many in the Kildare teams of the last 30 years who filled that role. Glenn Ryan, John Crofton and Davy Dalton were certainly a few who did not mind mixing it, but in general when I think of Kildare it is of nice players. Most of them would not do you much harm but could play lovely football - if they were let.
Today they have the difficulties of performance and reputation. One decides the other. Kildare have no performance to earn reputation. Kerry have a bank-full. When Kildare beat Cork, which I predicted they would, it was a case of finishing off a wounded lion. The statistics of beaten provincial finalists playing a week later don't lie. It is almost impossible to get body and soul together after such a crushing blow, especially so for Cork after smelling the wine in the cup in the drawn match.
Now Kildare have to show steel. They have a lot of very talented players, certainly enough to be a top six side. They lack experience at this level but the only way to get that is to win and beat teams who are currently ranked higher. They have not done this for a long time but every team must make their own tradition and Kildare have been handed the best draw possible.
Kerry won't know exactly what sort of team Kildare are and if they approach this match like the drawn Munster final, then they are in for another shock because Kildare can play and probably would beat Cork anyway.
Now Kerry have been around the block fairly often in these sort of cases and usually come to Croke Park and quietly dispose of pretenders. I think they will find this a more difficult assignment than the bookies predict. First of all I do not think this Kerry side is in the same league as most of their All-Ireland winners: a combination of good fortune, expert planning and, dare I say, a few favourable refereeing decisions helped steer them home last year. They need to be better this year to go all the way again and I am not at all convinced they can do that.
If the chosen side is to be believed, the Gooch sits on his hands again and will be used like the fifth cavalry to finish off the opposition. If Kildare can get in front early, then Colm Cooper might have to come on to chase the game. That is what Kildare must make them do.
There will be a great battle at midfield between Paul Cribbin and Tommy Moolick for the whites and Anthony Maher and David Moran for the greens. Despite the fluidity of the game these men can still have a big influence on the outcome. Kerry depend on the right ball to Kieran Donaghy and the best man to supply this is Moran - he is one of the best kickers in the game. Cribbin will run, run and run. A lot of the time with the ball too, but he needs to let it rip with the foot more often. The old timers always said that the ball travels faster when kicked than a man carrying it. It is still true.
Niall Kelly and Alan Smith might give their markers their fill of it and Kildare will rely on Ollie Lyons and Emmet Bolton to break quickly from defence. Today, though, they have to show more than nice touches: they need a few dogs who can hunt for the ball and stop Kerrymen in their tracks. Over the last few years they have failed to do that against Dublin, who just buried them early. This is an opportunity for a fresh start. Kildare have the players but champions have the mean streak which great players need to get to the top and stay there. I think Kildare are going to really test Kerry but the question is do they have the leaders to tramp all over the Kingdom? Unless they discover half a dozen today then Kerry will continue on their merry way.
The summer season of exhibition matches seems set to continue for Dublin against Fermanagh and it looks like it'll be the semi-final before there is a contest for the Dubs as distinct from a game. In many respects this looks like a repeat of the Leinster final where Fermanagh will set up a road block and Dublin will just have to figure a way around it. It may be tortuous and will take patience and time but the object of the exercise is to win; being flash is not on the agenda.
Fermanagh will come in high spirits; they are on a roll and will be resilient and brave. They have considerable qualities in terms of organisation and a never-say-die fire in their bellies. That has brought them a long way. They play to their strengths and will rely heavily on Seán Quigley and Tomás Corrigan for scores. All the others are like worker bees: they swarm all over the field, fighting for possession, and are very good at holding on to the ball. Their game is based on handpassing until a kick is necessary - which is not much different from anyone else.
Quigley is a throwback to a time when a player took a few months off in the winter and came back with a bit of a girth, which had to be worked off. Quigley does not impress as someone who has become a prisoner of the gym, the dietician or the monastic lifestyle of the modern county footballer, but he can play better than most with the correct body fat and great figures for bench pressing.
Yet today he will be playing in probably the fastest game he has ever been involved in and the indicator will be in the red zone from early on. Fermanagh need him to grab a couple from the clouds and stick them in the net to have any chance but it did not work against Westmeath, and when Corrigan was left isolated inside, Fermanagh got far more joy.
Incidentally, many make the point that Fermanagh's appearance in the quarter-final indicates that the present championship still works, but would it not work better if Fermanagh won their own championship before the main All-Ireland final in September? They won't get any favours today from Dean Rock, Jack McCaffrey, Ciaran Kilkenny or any of the other newer Dublin players who are busy keeping somebody else off the team.
Today is all about Fermanagh. They have nothing to prove in terms of being absolutely deserving of a place in the quarter-final but they have got the worst draw possible. Dublin will seek to destroy them early and Fermanagh must not allow goals in the first quarter. If they hold the Dubs to less than ten points it will be a good result. Yet being here is a case for rejoicing among Fermanagh supporters no matter what way the game goes. That is not patronising and there is no shame either in failing after giving everything.
Fermanagh will give that and then more but it is unlikely to be near good enough.
Sunday Indo Sport